Kochi: The Indian spice market is expected to witness a flurry of activity with corporations slowly entering the business.
After Reliance Retail Ltd started buying spices from the farmers in Kerala, tobacco and hotel company ITC Ltd is now all set to support spice farmers from the North-East.
ITC entered into an agreement with the Nagaland government and the government trade promotion body, Spices Board, on Tuesday, with a view to developing organic spice cultivation in Nagaland.
According to Jairam Ramesh, Union minister of state for commerce, in whose presence the agreement was signed, the North-East cultivates a wide range of exotic spices, which are not being effectively marketed.
The company is keen to take up farming and marketing initiative in the area to boost spice sales. The diversified company will develop a pilot project for tailor-made agriculture practices for selected agriculture crops such as turmeric and chillies.
A similar initiative was earlier taken up in Karbi Anglong district in Assam where the Spices Board encouraged the local tribes people to grow spices.
ITC, in consultation with the Nagaland government, will identify a group of farmers for the development and extension of organic cultivation of both turmeric and chillies.
The farmer group will be given adequate planting material and training in the good agricultural practices (GAP) and post-harvest management. The effort would also focus on creating awareness on productivity, food safety, quality and marketability of spices.
ITC eventually plans to set up primary processing and packing units in the spice-growing areas, and market the produce.
The spices grown in the specific areas will be marketed as organic spices through appropriate certification by internationally accredited agencies.
S. Kannan, director of the Spices Board, said the board is looking to extend subsidy for planting materials and agricultural inputs and post-harvest facilities, such as drying yards and drying units.
The board is also mulling partnering with ITC for setting up a value-added processing and packing units at the growing centres. The board is also hoping to subsidize organic certification costs.
Kannan said that the pilot project is expected to be completed in 36 months after which there would be a review.
In Kerala, Reliance Retail has begun buying vegetables and spices from farmers in Wayanad and Munnar districts for its retail outlets across the country.
Jyotir Ghosh, general manager of Reliance Retail, a unit of Reliance Industries Ltd, refused to comment but several farmers in Wayanad said the company is collecting vegetables and spices such as ginger and pepper from them.
A.V. Jayaraj, a farmer in Wayanad, who is coordinating collection in the district for Reliance, said that while the focus still is on vegetables, company officials have been looking at buying pepper, cardamom and ginger in bulk from the growers in the area.